When you’ve been in the game for as long as DJ Krush, you can do the unthinkable. Book a “20 Year Anniversary” tour and play a three-hour set? Sure. Why not?
On Saturday night the tour hit the Mezzanine—a rare opportunity to catch Krush, a living hip-hop legend, in one of his stateside appearances. But while many predicted that the 49 year-old Japanese producer would use the “20th Anniversary” tag to revisit his classic mid-’90s MoWax material, Krush is nothing if not unpredictable.
He played dubstep.
Not right out of the gate, mind you, and not for the whole set, but dubstep nonetheless. And while some of the crowd surely recoiled at the what’s-becoming-inescapable wompwompwompwomp, most of the crowd loved it. Krush seemed to love it. How can you fault a guy for evolving and adapting with the times?
Here’s something else: DJ Krush is damn good at playing dubstep. Probably because he’s been residing down around the same BPM for most of his career anyway, Krush’s command of the genre came off as entirely natural, and—this is important—utterly creative and not reliant on novelty. Say what you will about dubstep’s disposable nature, but it seemed to inspire the most inventive sound manipulations of the entire three-hour set.
The other thing: Krush attracts a varied crowd, because after 25 years he’s been through so many eras. You get the beathead hip-hop fans in hoodies and nodding heads from Meiso‘s Black Thought and C.L. Smooth collaborations; you get the Burning Man twirling girls from Zen‘s singles with Zap Mama and N’Dea Davenport, and you get new fans rolling in who need their guts rumbled by, well, dubstep.
At the two-hour mark, Krush still hadn’t delved deep into his MoWax days—”Only the Strong Survive,” at least, would have been a nice touch. But he’d still traveled some very mindblowing territory on his 15 year-old Vestax mixer, with wood flutes, electric guitars, the “Armagideon Time” bassline, a Bach organ, the “Paid in Full” beat,” Japanese rap and Rusty Bryant’s “Fire Eater” (greatest drum break in the world, maybe?) in the mix. All tinged with that elusive DJ Krush touch. It was danceable, thought-provoking and utterly addictive—one of the best sets I’ve witnessed.
The Mezzanine got that 1am vibe. A guy in a Gordo Taqueria T-shirt started punching himself in the face to each snare hit. A semicircle of friends chanted on a bald guy downing a Bloody Mary. A girl thrust her hand down another girl’s vest. People making out all over. Krush took the hint, chilled things out, and played some of his more “vibe” material to send people home.
DJ Krush turns 50 this year, and he’s still amazing. Here’s to longevity.
(Opener’s Note: I walked in and heard what I thought might be the Gaslamp Killer, but was thrilled to see Benji Illgen, a.k.a. Mophono, up on the turntables. Benji’s an old record-obsessive acquaintance from Santa Rosa who’s been in the city for over a decade now, and wouldn’t you know it, he puts out Gaslamp Killer records (and scores Flying Lotus collaborations) on his CB Records label. His set—half Serato, half vinyl—filled the early ’90s gaps that Krush would later leave empty, and it was a treat to see Krush hit the stage and bow in tribute to Benji. A great set. Hope you’re doing well, amigo.)
Cut Chemist’s show at the Mezzanine was billed as ‘Tunnel Vision,’ and it may as well have had an accompanying Playbill, handed out at the door. The show—indeed, the whole night—was like hip-hop theater, with scripted scenarios and stage blocking, culminating in the Los Angeles DJ’s uncharacteristically thick, dense set.
As one of the last of the dedicated vinyl DJs, Cut Chemist brought sharp skill to his own Act II called The Sound of the Police. A vinyl-only set of African breaks played on one turntable and with loops controlled by various footswitches, it was the technical highlight of the night. Elsewhere, on his laptop-assisted setup, he cut up “Bunky’s Pick,” “A Day at the Races,” and Tune-Yards’ “Gangsta”—fluidly blending each into breaks both new and old—and hosted Edan, Paten Locke and Mr. Lif on “The Storm.”
Cut Chemist is in a tough position these days. Most of the tricks he’s honed over the years as one of the world’s greatest and most innovative DJs can now be easily faked; he has no Jurassic 5-type group to provide constant work; turntablism as we once knew it is a niche instead of a phenomenon, etc. So when he had to point out to the crowd that his Sound of the Police segment was especially hard, or stopped the set to chastise the Mezzanine about the monitors, or seemed perturbed that the crowd didn’t stir for a J5 break. . . well, it’s forgivable. “You’re the best crowd on the tour so far,” he said to a half-full house at the end, at 1:45am. “You beat the fuck out of L.A. . . and that hurts.”
Edan’s set was nonstop entertainment, and not just because he wore a wig over his already-large hair. He delivered tracks from Beauty and the Beat, like “Colors,” completely on his own, holding a mic in one hand and juggling the beat with the other. He unreeled a lightning-fast acapella with Paten Locke. He had Locke flip through each and every record mentioned in “Rock and Roll” to the crowd while rapping. He cut up “Femme Fatale” with Run-DMC. Hell, he played kazoo and guitar. Echo Party was fun and all, but here’s hoping he puts out a proper follow-up to Beauty and the Beat.
Mr. Lif stretched out a segment about getting a corporate job, being paid $6.50/hr., smoking five blunts and killing his boss. It wasn’t nearly as stupid as it may sound, because Mr. Lif defines “on point”—he’s deliberate, precise and enunciates with a dedication matching his suit and hat. His long acapella about McDonald’s committing genocide on the nation killed, and he paid tribute to Tribe, Gangstarr and GZA. A consummate performer, Mr. Lif, and a perfect MC to kick off a night of hip-hop theater.